WHO says COVID-19 may be here to stay

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 25 2021 05:03 PM

People flock to the Dapitan Arcade in Quezon City to purchase Christmas decorations on October 19, 2021 days after the capital region was put under Alert Level 3 which allows for the opening of more business establishments. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
People flock to the Dapitan Arcade in Quezon City to purchase Christmas decorations on October 19, 2021 days after the capital region was put under Alert Level 3 which allows for the opening of more business establishments. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday urged countries to "anticipate continued surges and sporadic outbreaks" of the COVID-19 virus, saying it is "plausible" that the disease would "not disappear."

Several countries in the Western Pacific have shifted from "elimination strategy to one that plans for COVID-19 as being endemic," said Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, WHO Regional Director for Health Emergencies Program.

"It is plausible that the virus will not disappear," he said in the WHO-Western Pacific's hybrid session.

"We therefore need to anticipate that continued surges and sporadic outbreaks," he said.

Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand have began "shifting" their pandemic-related policies from shutting out the virus through lockdowns to developing an immunity against the virus, he said.

The WHO seeks to "vaccinate every country by 40 percent by the end of this year and 70 percent by the middle of next year," said WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"Almost two-thirds of people in your region are now fully vaccinated, the most in any region," he said in a recorded message.

Despite the positive vaccination numbers in the region, Ghebreyesus underscored that "there are wide discrepancies between countries and within countries."

"We can prevent this disease, we can test for it and we can treat it, but those tools has not been shared equitably," he said.

"WHO and its partners are doing everything it can to scale up the production of vaccines as much as possible and as fast as possible," he said, noting that 56 million doses of COVID-19 jabs have been distributed to 21 Western Pacific countries through the COVAX facility.

COVAX hopes to "deliver more than 150 million doses to Western Pacific countries" by the end of 2021, he said.

More than a year since the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, and about 10 months since several countries began vaccinating people against the disease, Olowokure noted that several countries continue to see spikes in novel coronavirus cases.

"Member states should use vaccines in an effective way by targeting at risk groups such as health care workers and the elderly, and by ensuring that no dose is wasted," he said.

"Some challenges faced include vaccine hesitancy, challenges in getting the vaccines to communities, and difficulties into getting the vaccines into people's arms quickly and efficiently at the local level."

In the Philippines, 25.71 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of October 24, 2021. Thirty million others have received their first dose.

The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) said it plans to provide a booster shot to priority groups as early as November should state regulators amend the emergency use authorization to existing jabs.

Economists have been urging the national government to loosen restrictions on business and other establishments, warning the next two generations of Filipinos would be paying for the cost of COVID-19.

"Our long run total cost of COVID and the quarantine both to the present and future society -- meaning our children and our grandchildren -- will reach P41.4 trillion" ($810 billion), Economic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said.

The figure is more than twice the Philippines' gross domestic product in 2020, which the World Bank estimates at $361.5 billion.

The losses would be felt over the next 10 to 40 years, Chua said. 

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